Plant of the Week: Whitespire Gray Birch

Gray birch trees are easily identified by their gray-white bark. Photo by Beverly Israely

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees — each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share with you one of our gardeners’ current favorites.


Whitespire gray birch, Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire,’ is a beautiful tree that creates horticultural interest through the four seasons. This time of year, the trees are characterized by their bare branches and light gray bark. In the coming year we also have fluffy catkins in the spring, lush foliage in the summer, and vibrant autumnal color to look forward to.

Authors Edith Roberts and Else Rhemann wrote in their book American Plants for American Gardens: “Wherever there are gray birches, Nature is in one of her lightest moods. These gray-white trees of slender form gather together in fairy-like groves. Their slim grace is accentuated by the way they often spring up in fives and sixes from a single root. When young they are a gray-brown but later on they are phantom-white with black twigs and black notches. The effect is full of that mystery that etchings and delicate pencil drawings have. The gossamer quality is ever present; in the spring when their filmy foliage is light-filled, in summer when their green is soft, in autumn when it is all sun-lit yellow, and even in the winter when the trees take on again their keynote colors from the snow and dark earth.”

Who knew a tree could inspire such prose!

On the High Line between Gansevoort and West 17th Streets, West 21st and West 22nd Streets, and West 28th and West 30th Streets

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